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Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Beginner’s Guide to Dive Bars


The cruel fact is that there just aren’t enough bars in the world so you can’t always pick and choose where you go for a drink. A dive is generally a place where you’ll probably feel more of a need to wipe your feet as you leave than you did on the way in. You can almost always spot a dive from the outside but if you were fooled by the exterior some sure give-a-ways that you're in a dive are dead animals mounted on the walls, a pool table in worse shape than a hillbilly’s front yard, a jar of pickled eggs, mullets, black eyes, and lots of “ain’t”s (there are dive bars in non-English speaking countries so I should probably amend this to say “bad grammar” except I ain’t smart enough to detect bad grammar in any language besides English).

Keep it Simple

Don’t order a martini unless you want a glass of luke-warm rot gut vodka and an olive that looks like it rolled behind the cigarette machine a few months ago yet somehow made it into your glass. In fact, avoid drinks that require any sort of fruit or garnish, and ordering wine is just asking for a fight. Even the ice may be suspect depending on the local drinking water. Stick to plain-and-simple domestic beer and whiskey. The good news is that the last time I checked these two staples contain alcohol (Completely overcome with the spirit of investigative journalism, I actually checked out this fact last night).

The Bathrooms

I've been in bathrooms so squalid that I interrupted the stream of my pee so that germs and other critters couldn’t swim, salmon-like, upstream into my pride and joy. You're a lot safer just doing your business in the parking lot—no one will notice, I promise. On a further anthropological note, some of the best graffiti I've ever read I found in dive bar toilets—sort of ironic when you consider that about the only thing the customers read in these places are arrest warrants and eviction notices.

Se Habla Baseball

Unless you are at the bar in the roll of a Dian Fossey-like researcher, you will want to interact with the local wildlife. A safe lingua franca of dive bars is baseball. Talking about sports is sort of the Esperanto of knuckleheads, a sub-group I claim as one of my own. Just say a few kind words about the team the locals support and you will have friends for life, or until closing time—whichever comes first. Even if I were miles behind enemy lines in a dive bar in the Bronx I think I could find a few good things to say about…gulp (this is really difficult for me)…the Yankees.

E Pluribus

My first dive bar was a place called the 101 Club. I guess that stood for Dive Bars 101 and was a required course at my university. It was as crappy as any bar I have ever seen; sort of like a rough Mexican cantina but without the good food. The jukebox had the worst music ever collected in one place. One night I pumped in about five dollars worth of quarters and looked for the worst song I could find. It happened to be Paper Roses by Marie Osmond so I played the B side about thirty times and went back to playing pool. After the miserable little tune had played about six times we looked around to see how this was registering with the other patrons. None of them even seemed to notice the awful music or that it had repeated half a dozen times.

The point that I'm trying to make here is that hicks are different from you and me. They're a tougher breed who fight our wars, install our cable TV, fix all the shit we break, and their kids beat up your kids. Next time you're in a dive bar show your appreciation and buy a round of drinks.